Holy Trinity Sunday June 3rd, 2012
You are going to meet God, but are you ready? Last week we heard God’s promise that he would make our dry bones live. You are going to rise from the dead and be in heaven with God one day. Are you ready for that? Today in our lesson we hear that Isaiah suddenly found himself in the presence of God. Seldom does God let human beings see him like Isaiah did—in fact, so seldom that we can scarcely imagine what it would be like for someone to actually see God during this life on earth. Nonetheless, we will see him one day.
To help us understand what it would be like to be in the presence of God’s greatness, let’s first think about being in the presence of human greatness. How would you prepare, if you were going to have dinner with General Norman Schwartzkopf—Stormin’ Norman, the Commander of the Coalition Forces during Desert Storm in the early 90’s. As you put on your best suit, you think of everything you want to ask him about. You arrive at a 5-star restaurant, and the waitress brings you to your table. There is the general, sitting at the table with all his regalia. You’re staring at the medals and bars pinned to his jacket. This guy has more metal on his jacket than a high school track star! The waitress says, “General Schwartzkopf, what would you like to drink?” And he says, “I’ll have a martini, extra dry, with Bombay sapphire gin, shaken, not stirred.” Then she turns to you, and what are you going to say? I can’t think. I’m too busy staring at the medals. I say, “I’ll have a water.” That’s what happens when you are in the presence of someone great.
Isaiah suddenly found himself in the presence of greatness infinitely greater than that of any human being. Here was God, the commander of the angel armies of heaven, sitting on a throne high and exalted above all.
Isaiah was not ready for what he saw.
Hear it in his words:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
Do you understand what Isaiah was seeing? That’s an impossible question, though—I doubt that Isaiah understood what he was seeing. What amazing creatures he saw, and they were only seraphim who served the Lord. And there was the Lord, the one and only true God who rules over all things in absolute authority. Isaiah didn’t even bother trying to describe him. Any description would fall short. We have bits and pieces revealed to us that both confound our understanding and excite our faith. He is God, the Father of all creation. He is the Son, who was born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ. Jesus is both true God and also prayed to God his Father in heaven. God is the Holy Spirit, who gave the Word of God to the prophets and continues to work through the Word of God among God’s people. All three persons are powerful and present at all times, and they are your one God and Lord. Isaiah saw him sitting on his throne.
We have a creed—the Athanasian Creed—where we confess very precisely everything that the Bible tells us about the person of God. It gets so complicated that it makes your head spin to recite it though, so we hardly ever use it. We just are not able to describe God precisely in a way that we can understand. But Isaiah saw him— the Lord, the triune God. How would you react?
Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am ruined!” Basically, its all over and I’m as good as dead. “For,” Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” He stood there in the presence of the eternal, God, who commands all the angel armies of heaven, and he had an emotional meltdown. “Woe is me! I am ruined!”
You would not be ready to see God right now either.
There are times in life when we understand pretty well why Isaiah had this emotional meltdown. We might sometimes suffer a meltdown without even seeing God’s face like Isaiah did!—but it happens for the same reason. It happens when we feel God’s wrath against sin. The miseries and tragedies of our sinful lives on this sinful earth preach to us that this is not heaven, and God is not pleased with sin. When it happens, your heart may ask “what did I do to deserve this?” or you may know something that you did to deserve this. The Bible tells us that we deserve any trouble we get. “Your sins have separated you from your God,” Isaiah wrote later in his book. Because of that we should expect nothing more or less than miserable fruitless hard work, pain, sorrow, and finally death. Ever since God put that curse on sinful human flesh and the earth where we live, pain and misery is what we get. When we feel too much of that curse, we have a meltdown. So, are you ready to meet God, in all his holiness?
Maybe you feel like you are. More likely than not, your life is pretty good right now, and you can feel pretty good about yourself too. You know that God has made you his own child through the waters of baptism, and he has given you forgiveness for your sins by his Word and in the Lord’s Supper. Maybe you have been able to curb your sinful heart and live a pretty decent life. People think of you as a good person. In your heart you know that you are a sinner, but it’s not too difficult to believe that God’s grace covers all your sins. After all, they are the same sins that everyone else commits too. Your sins are understandable, and even expected. Anyone in your situation would do and think the same sinful things. Life is generally good, and as long as you don’t do something horrible its easy for you to believe that God has forgiven you for everything.
I suppose that Isaiah would have thought the same things in that year when King Uzziah died. Life was good. It was a time of peace and prosperity in Israel. Isaiah had faith in God, and he understood that his sins were all forgiven because God had promised a Savior. He was probably a pretty decent person, too, with mostly “small sins” and only occasional “big sins.”
When Isaiah saw God, none of the excuses he had for his sins held up. In an instant none of his sins were small and understandable anymore. In that moment of truth even his faith failed. His forgiveness was no comfort to him. It seems that it did not cross his mind that God might perhaps forgive him. “Woe is me!” He cried. “I am ruined!” Isaiah had a meltdown, just like anyone who feels God’s wrath against sin in their life.
Now do you think that you have what it takes to meet God?
God reached out to Isaiah.
Isaiah would have been ruined and as good as dead if God had not reached out to him with a personal touch of forgiveness. God sent one of his angels called seraphs to touch Isaiah with a coal, and it changed Isaiah’s mood entirely. He went from being a wreck to volunteering himself for service. “Here I am, send me!” he said. What a change!
It was the burning coal God sent to touch his lips. We can understand that fire has a certain cleansing power—if you want to purify metal, you heat it up in the fire. If you want to sterilize a pin or a knife, you might heat it up in a flame. Fire can even be used to cauterize a wound as a way of fighting infection. This fire, though, had an even greater cleansing power, because it came from God’s altar.
That altar in the temple was the place where all the Old Testament sacrifices were offered, and all of those sacrifices were connected to the sacrifice God would offer, his own Son on the cross. God took the fire of his sacrifice and extended it to Isaiah, and he said that it removed Isaiah’s guilt, and it covered his sins. God’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, removes guilt and covers sins.
Just think what Isaiah experienced. The holy, triune God whose presence had shattered his confidence and terrified him to the point of death—this holy, powerful, three persons-in-one God reached out to take Isaiah’s guilt away and put it behind him. He reached out to cover Isaiah’s sin with the sacrifice of Jesus. His infinite power in an instant became infinite love and mercy to Isaiah.
The only thing I can compare it to is when my fiancée first told me that she loved me, and I can say this because she is not here. She would die of embarrassment. Here was this woman so beautiful and wonderful that I would scarcely dare to speak to her much less ask her for a date—she is so far out of my league—but she fell in love with me.
God is much farther above and beyond us, and yet he reached out with this personal forgiveness for Isaiah. That’s incredible.
God also reaches out to you.
God has a personal message of forgiveness for you. He has told Christians to speak forgiveness to each other on his behalf. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven,” Jesus told us. He extends it also in the water of Baptism, because when that water touches you, you know that God’s promises about that water are given to you. The water has touched you, so you know that your sins are washed away, and you are saved. God reaches out again in Holy Communion with a personal touch. You eat the bread, you drink the wine, and you know that the sacrifice of Jesus has touched your lips. Your guilt has been removed. Your sins have been covered in God’s sight.
This is why coming to church is so important. Where else will God reach out with a personal touch to forgive your sins? You can read your Bible at home and hear God’s promises extended to all people, so that anyone who hears it can believe forgiveness is given to him or her. But in the moment of truth, when your heart tells you that you’re a horrible sinner, its very difficult to apply that Word of God to yourself. You’re going to think that you are excluded, ruined, and lost. You need God to reach out to you, personally, and touch your lips. He does that through the Church, as often as you need it, through the words of forgiveness that Christians can speak to you, through the water of Baptism that touches your head, and through body and blood of Christ that touch your lips.
Conclusion: But even still, if God appeared now, I am not too confident that my faith would hold up. I might have a meltdown just like Isaiah did. How will we ever be ready to meet God? The answer, as we have seen, is that God reaches out to us, and makes us ready. He gives you now the personal assurance that you are clean and holy in his sight. But because the sinful desires of our sinful nature still cling to us in this life, God hides himself from our eyes for the time being— otherwise the sight of his holiness would constantly terrify us. But this is not to last forever. After we die and our sinful flesh is buried in the ground, God will raise our bodies from the dead to be perfect like him again. Now you are holy in his eyes; then you will be holy in your own eyes also. God has set your guilt aside. He has covered your sin. He will raise you to be holy and perfect like him, and you will stand in his presence, unashamed, because God has reached out to you. Amen.